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Walkways lead from the Belle of Baton Rouge riverboat casino to inland facilities and an atrium that could house casino operations in a move off the Mississippi River. 

Less than three months after the new owners of the Belle of Baton Rouge said it was “highly unlikely” the downtown riverboat would move onto land, the casino’s general manager said a “real serious look” will be taken at making the move.

Jim Rigot, who took over as general manager of the Belle two weeks ago, told the Downtown Development District Commission that Eldorado Resorts is sending construction and development officials to Baton Rouge this month to evaluate moving the casino off of the water and “making a real exciting development.”

“It’s above my pay grade what they’re going to do,” Rigot said, “but it will be looked at in a serious way.”

In November, Gary Carano, Eldorado's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a conference call with investors and analysts moving the Belle wasn’t likely, but the company was considering moving the Isle of Capri Casino in Lake Charles. Legislation was passed last year that allows the state's 15 riverboat casinos to operate onshore in a larger space for gambling.

Tropicana Entertainment, the former owners of the Belle, had expressed interest in moving the casino into the 80,000-square-foot atrium next to the riverboat. When Eldorado made the deal in April to buy Tropicana, Carano expressed interest in continuing those plans.

One selling point is the fact that the atrium is already built and has plenty of free space. Carano had said it would cost far less than the $50 million to $60 million that other moves would cost the company.

Rigot said while he couldn’t speak for Carano, it may be a case of the Eldorado leader wanting to get more information about the actual potential of the Baton Rouge market. Revenue at the Belle and across the market have dropped sharply in the past year, a move gambling observers blame on a lack of new attractions at local casinos and the parishwide smoking ban. For the last six months of 2017, the Belle posted $25.4 million in revenue and the entire Baton Rouge riverboat market brought in $139.4 million. That compares to the last half of 2018, when the Belle brought in $17 million and the entire market dipped to $115.4 million.

“You look at this new reality of Baton Rouge where he’s coming from and the market is not growing, it’s decreasing,” he said. “There’s serious concern about investing money and getting an acceptable return on investment.”

For the Belle, Rigot said it may be a case of “you build it and they shall come.” The casino is located across Government Street from the Raising Cane’s River Center, which has undergone a number of recent expansions and improvements, and is close to the new downtown hotels, such as The Watermark Baton Rouge, Holiday Inn Express and The Courtyard by Marriott. “If you really look at the real estate, it’s something special,” he said.

Rigot, who was general manager of Hollywood Casino Baton Rouge from 2011 to 2015, told the DDD he hoped to one day make an announcement to the group about moving the Belle, then to hold a ribbon cutting on the property.

“We need to make sure we get a return on the investment and what real opportunities there are,” he said. “But I see an awful lot of potential here.”

The Belle turns 25 years old this year. Rigot said the casino is “antiquated, outdated and needs a lot of help.” The three-story riverboat is at a competitive disadvantage to the newer L’Auberge Baton Rouge resort, where all of the slot machines, video poker terminals and table games are spread across a single floor.

“People don’t like traversing stairs,” he said.

Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, said talk about moving the Belle onto land is exciting news. Along with being within walking distance of the River Center and the downtown hotels, the property is close to the Water Campus. 

“All of the bones are there,” Rhorer said.

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.